A Baptist church in Ukraine’s south-eastern town of Novoazovsk was forced to close by a separatist group last month, reports Oslo-based news service Forum 18.
The DPR, along with the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), both backed by Russia, declared independence from Ukraine in May 2014. This resulted in an ongoing armed conflict between Ukrainian government forces and separatist groups supported by Russia. The rebel administration currently controls nearly half of Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
Between 2014 and 2017 the DPR seized and closed several places of worship, including a Baptist church, Seventh-day Adventist church, Protestant-run university, mosque and Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Halls, according to Forum 18.
“Members of this church are deprived of the opportunity to conduct worship meetings,” a church member told Forum 18 after the rebel administration seized and sealed the Novoazovsk Baptist Church.
In July another Baptist church, the New Life Baptist Church in Makeyevka, was also closed, according to Forum 18.
Sergei Gavrish, the head of the Religion and Nationalities Department at the Culture Ministry in Donetsk, denied any involvement in the closures. “I don’t know who does this,” he told Forum 18 last week.
The self-declared government of the DPR has made Russian Orthodox Christianity its official faith. World Watch Monitor reported in March 2015 how rebels arrested Protestant and Catholic leaders in Donetsk and other rebel-held cities, accusing them of being agents for the West, or spies for what they said was Kiev’s fascist government.
Similar incidents are taking place in the rebel-held Luhansk region, also in eastern Ukraine. In August a Pentecostal church in Alchevsk was raided during a worship meeting by armed men from the State Security Ministry of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic.
In June 2014, World Watch Monitor reported how churches in eastern Ukraine and the Crimea region had been attacked by armed men, and church leaders forced to flee.